Nine months after SAG-AFTRA accused Spanish Broadcasting System of numerous violations of labor laws, the two sides have hammered out a nearly half-million dollar settlement. The agreement came right down to the wire with attorneys for both camps negotiating on the courtroom steps in Los Angeles before the National Labor Relations Board was set to begin a trial inside the courthouse.
Eight employees at regional Mexican “La Raza” KLAX-FM (97.9) and Spanish CHR “Mega 96.3” KXOL-FM in Los Angeles were unlawfully fired in March, in retaliation for exercising their right to unionize, according to the union. In September the NLRB ruled there was sufficient evidence to investigate claims that the broadcaster fired or retaliated against employees after they joined the union.
The labor board, which has federal oversight to investigate and mitigate workplace disputes, authorized issuance of a formal complaint against SBS over the allegations which included engaging in “egregious bad faith surface bargaining during first contract negotiations.” The union asked for the reinstatement of the employees, as well as repayment of lost wages, and good faith negotiations. It also convinced the NLRB to go to a federal district court and obtain an injunction to get the fired employees back to work.
Under terms of the agreement announced Tuesday evening, SAG-AFTRA says all the employees will receive full backpay, interest and expenses through Jan.14, 2018. SBS offered the choice of reinstatement or significant front pay to all eight employees. Most chose to return to work to their former positions at SBS, effective Jan. 15, 2018. A few decided to move on and receive front pay.
The agreement also stipulates that SBS must engage in good faith bargaining with an eye toward reaching a collective bargaining agreement. It also requires what the union describes as “a rigorous bargaining schedule.” SBS has agreed that by mid-January, it will provide SAG-AFTRA with a proposal, including specific dollar figures for wages and fees to be paid to bargaining unit members.
“This is a significant victory for these union members and an incredible symbol of hope for workers fighting for economic justice across our country,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said in a statement. “This win sends a message—loud and clear—that employers will not be able to get away with terminating employees who exercise their right to unionize.”
“Our work isn’t done,” said SAG-AFTRA national executive director David White “We are ready for the next steps and look forward to returning to the bargaining table in January to ensure that these professionals obtain a just contract.”
Officials from SBS weren’t immediately available to comment on the settlement. In September the company vowed to “vigorously defend against” what it called “false union claims.” In a statement then, SBS chairman Raúl Alarcón called the allegations “totally false and malicious” and “an insult to the talented and professional on-air personnel the union claims to represent.”
The legal tangle had its start last year after union representatives began negotiations with SBS employees, who said they wanted to join SAG-AFTRA because they were allegedly paid less than minimum wage, denied overtime, reimbursements, meal breaks and access to the bathroom during live promotional events and concerts.
Now that an agreement has been reached, Felix Castillo, known on the air as DJ Mr. Boro, said he felt “completely vindicated, happy and strong that the fight was worth every second, every tear and every drop of sweat.” But he added that there is more work to do across the industry. “We have to achieve industry wide changes but I am very happy that SBS Los Angeles was the first step and I am looking forward to being a part of the lasting change in the radio industry,” Castillo said.
SAG-AFTRA received an outpouring of support from community leaders and elected officials in its fight. Erika “La Huerquilla” Garza, a former SBS personality, thanked those that spoke out on their behalf. “We hope our experience inspires those living in the shadows to step up,” Garza said.